Two Syrians walk along a fence near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, November 30, 2016. Syrians who arrived in Turkey since late 2017 have been unable to register for temporary protection and receive basic services.

© 2016 Umit Bektas/Reuters
(Istanbul) – Turkish authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border have stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education.

The European Commission has recently praised Turkey’s asylum system and plans to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 migration deal which includes support for refugees in Turkey. European Union institutions and governments have stayed publicly silent on the suspension and other refugee abuses committed by Turkey, suggesting their primary concern is to halt the movement of asylum seekers and migrants from Turkey to the EU.

“While the EU supports Turkey to deter asylum seekers from reaching Europe, it’s turning a blind eye to Turkey’s latest steps to block and discourage people fleeing Syria,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. “But forcing Syrians who manage to get past Turkey’s border guards to live in legal limbo only risks driving them underground and onward to the EU.”

Syrian refugees queue for food aid in Gaziantep, Turkey on May 20, 2016. Turkey’s suspension of Syrian refugee registration blocks them from receiving such aid.

© 2016 Kyodo/ AP Images
The suspension of registration is Turkey’s latest effort to deny new asylum seekers protection. Over the past three years, Turkey has sealed off its border with Syria, while Turkish border guards continue to carry out mass summary pushbacks and to kill and injure Syrians as they try to cross.

Between early 2011 and the end of May 2018, Turkey had registered almost 3.6 million Syrians, making it the world’s largest refugee hosting country. That generosity does not absolve it, or its international partners, of the duty to help newly arrived asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said. 

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrians in Turkey’s Hatay province about their attempts to register for a temporary protection permit in Hatay, Gaziantep, and Istanbul provinces. A permit protects Syrians from arrest and the risk of deportation. It also entitles them to get health care and education, to work, and to seek social assistance, including the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net for the most vulnerable Syrians.

Syrians said Turkish police deported them in groups of up to 20 people for not having a permit and that hospitals and schools refused to take them in without permits. Some said they returned to Syria so they, or their relatives, could get urgent medical care. Others said they decided to return to Syria because only some family members had been able to register. All said, they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and severely restricted their movement to avoid the police.

Turkey is bound by the international customary law rule of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone in any manner whatsoever to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life. This includes asylum seekers, who are entitled to have their claims fairly adjudicated and not be summarily returned to places where they fear harm. Turkey may not coerce people into returning to places where they face harm by denying them legal status or access to essential services.

On October 30, 2017, the Hatay governor’s office said that to discourage smugglers from helping Syrians enter Turkey through Hatay, the province would no longer register newly arriving Syrians for temporary protection permits. In early February 2018, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Istanbul province would also no longer register Syrians.

Eight other provinces on or near the Syrian border have also suspended registration for newly arriving Syrians since late 2017 or early 2018, according to three agencies working closely with Syrian refugees, as well as a European Commission official and a Turkish public official who previously worked on migration issues. The provinces are Adana, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Mardin, Mersin, Osmaniye, and Şanlıurfa.

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© 2018 DigitalGlobe and © 2018 Human Rights Watch

Since late August 2015, only registered Syrians who obtain a special travel permit have been allowed to travel within Turkey. In practice, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers enter Turkey irregularly through the few remaining gaps in Turkey’s border wall in Hatay province. Blocked from registering there, they are unable to lawfully leave Hatay province and travel to other provinces where registration has not been closed. This forces them to live illegally in Hatay province, or to use smugglers to reach other parts of Turkey, risking arrest and deportation.

According to three confidential sources, Turkey has rejected proposals for a new system that would allow Syrians arriving in Hatay, and to a far lesser extent in other border provinces, to register in other parts of Turkey where fewer refugees live.

Refugee agencies told Human Rights Watch that Turkey’s strict controls on international and local refugee agencies prevent them from finding and helping unregistered Syrians. This lack of aid agency monitoring means that there are no statistics or estimates on the numbers of Syrians denied registration, deported, or refused urgently needed services.

In response to a June 13 letter presenting the Human Rights Watch findings, the migration authorities in Ankara denied that any of the country’s 81 provinces, including Hatay and Istanbul, had suspended registration of Syrians. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Human Rights Watch that as of mid-May, the authorities had reassured them that registration of Syrians was ongoing, including in Hatay and Istanbul. Other aid agencies that support refugees say that the authorities in the 10 provinces have only continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension, and to register urgent medical cases referred from Syria and babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey. Two refugee aid agencies also said that in some cases they have managed to convince the authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye provinces to register particularly vulnerable unregistered Syrians.

In early 2018, the authorities in Hatay opened a new registration center in Antakya. Representatives of three aid agencies and two Turkish security personnel working in Antakya said the center is exclusively for unregistered Syrians to request help to return to Syria, while registered Syrians can request help to return at other migration authority-run centers.

Turkey does not allow any independent monitoring of whether unregistered Syrians signing up for return are in fact returning voluntarily or whether they are effectively being coerced. In contrast, Turkey does allow independent monitoring of some registered Syrians’ decision to return to Syria.

Turkey should protect the basic rights of all newly arriving Syrians, regardless of registration status, and register those denied registration since late 2017. The European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Syrians and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Syrians, including all unregistered Syrians.

“Unregistered Syrians in Turkey may be conveniently out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind,” Simpson said. “EU states and the commission should speak up and support all Syrians in Turkey, not just those who got in before Turkey started driving them underground.”

For more details about Turkey’s suspension of Syrian asylum seeker registration, please see below.

Asylum Seeker Registration

The first Syrian refugees fled to Turkey in early 2011 and in the subsequent three-and-a-half years, Turkey adopted an ad hoc approach to their registration, without conferring a clear legal status with related rights. Although Turkey ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the country maintains a geographical limitation that excludes anyone not originally from a European country from full refugee recognition. That means it does not fully grant asylum to people fleeing violence or persecution in Syria and any other non-European country.

In 2013, Turkey adopted its own legal framework on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. In October 2014, Turkey also adopted a regulation under which it grants Syrians temporary protection. As of June 28, 2018, Turkey said it had registered 3,562,523 people under the regulation. Registered Syrians are entitled to assistance. Even though the regulation says Syrians who fail to register will not be deported to Syria and will only face an “administrative fine,” Human Rights Watch found that unregistered Syrians have been deported for not having temporary protection permits.

The Hatay governor’s office and the interior minister said registration has been suspended for newly arriving Syrians in Hatay and Istanbul. Refugee aid agencies and Syrians in Hatay’s main city, Antakya, told Human Rights Watch that police carried out mass arrests of Syrians in November and early December, just after registration was suspended.

Five sources told Human Rights Watch that since late 2017 and early 2018, migration authorities in eight other border provinces followed suit and turned away all newly arriving Syrians seeking registration.

As of June 28, seven of the provinces that suspended registration were in the top 10 provinces hosting Syrians: Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Kilis, Mersin, and Şanlıurfa. Together they were sheltering 2,422,804 registered Syrians, or 68 percent of the total in Turkey. The other three – Kahramanmaraş, Mardin, and Osmaniye – were sheltering 235,549, or just under seven percent.

Aid agencies say that, in practice, the authorities in affected provinces continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension and to register people with urgent medical needs referred from Syria. They also continued to register babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey, an estimated 306 each day. Agencies with first-hand knowledge of the suspension of registration in the 10 provinces say the registration of these Syrians may explain the claim authorities made to Human Rights Watch that eight of the provinces on or near the border registered a total of 116,059 Syrians between November 1 and June 20.

One refugee aid agency with close knowledge of registration procedures in all of Turkey’s provinces told Human Rights Watch that in a few exceptional cases, authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye province have registered children in urgent need of medical care, together with one caregiver. Another refugee assistance agency that sometimes deals with unregistered Syrians said that between late 2017 and late April 2018, it had convinced the Hatay authorities to register a few dozen newly arrived Syrians on an exceptional basis because they had specific needs, but that even then it was a “headache” to get them through police checkpoints to registration offices. Agencies estimate that as of mid-May, the total number of such vulnerable cases of unregistered Syrians whom the authorities have registered on an exceptional basis was in the low hundreds.

Turkey’s travel permit system for registered Syrians prohibits unregistered Syrians from traveling from border provinces to register elsewhere. Seven Syrians told Human Rights Watch they paid smugglers to drive them from Antakya, in Hatay province, to Istanbul to register. But security officials at migration authority offices in Istanbul told them registration had been suspended for newly arriving Syrians.

UNHCR and some diplomats in Turkey told Human Rights Watch they have been encouraging Turkey’s Directorate General for Migration Management to adopt a referral system under which authorities in Hatay, or other border provinces where Syrians first arrive, would pre-register Syrians and then refer them to other provinces where fewer Syrians live to register. Some EU member states have proposed that if such a system were to be adopted, the EU should help support job-creation for Syrians and Turkish citizens in the provinces to which Syrians are referred. But all attempts to convince Turkey to set up a referral system have failed.

Consequences of Suspended Registration

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrian asylum seekers in Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, and the first city most Syrians reach after being smuggled across the closed Turkish border. They said the authorities in Antakya, the nearby town of Reyhanli, and in Gaziantep province had refused to register them during the first few months of 2018. They also described how not having a temporary protection permit – or “kimlik,” as it is popularly called (a Turkish shorthand for identification card) – had affected them. Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the interviews, gave assurances of anonymity, and obtained interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

All said they were turned away from registration offices at least twice. Only three said they managed to register after brokers bribed registration officials between US$300 and $500.

Most said officials simply said “no more kimliks here” or “no one gets a kimlik” and told them to leave. Two said they also tried to register in Gaziantep in April, but that saw a sign on the office that said “no kimliks.”

Four said that only some members of their family had been registered, leaving the rest in legal limbo and that as a result, the entire family was contemplating returning to Syria. One man said his sick wife was given permission to enter Turkey for emergency medical treatment in Antakya, and was allowed to register there, together with their newborn baby. When he and their five other children, aged 6 to 14, managed to enter Turkey and tried to register in Antakya, they were turned away.

Three Syrians said that Turkish police had previously summarily deported them to Syria for not having a temporary protection permit. One, a 22-year-old man from Aleppo governorate, said he entered Turkey in early April and was refused registration in Antakya. In early May, he said, police stopped him at about 8 a.m. near the Antakya bus station and asked for his permit. When he said he tried to register, but had been turned away, the police drove him to a local police station, recorded his personal details, and then drove him and about 20 other unregistered Syrians to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported them. He said 15 of the 20 told him they had been caught without temporary protection permits in Istanbul and the other five said they had just entered Turkey a few days earlier and were arrested after arriving at a smuggler’s house in Antakya. A few days later, he managed to return to Turkey with smugglers.

Another former deportee, a 28-year-old man from Idlib, said he and his brother entered Turkey together in January and were denied registration in Antakya. He said his brother traveled with a smuggler to Istanbul to find work there, but Turkish police arrested him on May 17 and the next day, took him to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported him.

On May 22, Human Rights Watch spoke to a 31-year-old man from Hama who said the authorities in Antakya had arrested his brother a few hours earlier, were holding him in the new center for unregistered Syrians to sign up to return to Syria, and said they were about to deport him. Human Rights Watch alerted UNHCR, which intervened and prevented the deportation.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four Syrians at the newly established center for unregistered Syrians who wish to sign up for return to Syria. They decided to go back because their relatives had been denied urgent medical care, or because some family members who arrived after registration was suspended could not register.

Two Syrians said they heard from other Syrians in Antakya about many cases in which the wives of men who had been deported told Turkish authorities they planned to go back to Syria because they and their children could not survive alone in Turkey.

All of the 29 other unregistered Syrians interviewed said they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and said they heard of many cases involving the deportation of unregistered Syrians. Eight said they reduced their movements to a minimum, often staying at home for days at a time. A 17-year-old boy who said he never left his uncle’s house in Antakya out of fear of arrest said “this feels like prison.”

Three unregistered Syrians said they regularly use Syrian-owned driving services which use back roads to avoid police checkpoints or informal police stop-and-search patrols in Antakya.

Nine said they attempted to get medical treatment in clinics and hospitals in Antakya, but had been refused treatment because they were not registered. Four others said they did not even try to access medical care, because they heard others were turned away, and because they were afraid local hospitals would call the police to arrest them for not having a permit.

A 27-year-old woman from Idlib province seeking cancer treatment said two hospitals in Antakya refused to treat her because she did not have a permit.

A 34-year-old, eight months’ pregnant woman from Aleppo, with four children all born by caesarean section, said she was too afraid to go to the local hospital to ask for a checkup and prepare for her delivery, because she had been told hospitals turn away unregistered Syrians and was afraid of being arrested and returned to Syria.

Similarly, a 31-year-old woman whose entire family was refused registration in March said her husband was extremely sick with a serious lung condition, but he would not go to a hospital out of fear of being arrested and deported. She said he never left the house and lived in constant fear of being discovered.

A nongovernmental organization working with Syrians in Hatay province said that during the first few months of 2018, they heard of dozens of cases of Syrians in Antakya seeking emergency medical care, many of them pregnant women, who were turned away by hospitals because they had been denied registration.

Six Syrians interviewed by Human Rights Watch said their children were unable to go to school, because schools would only take registered Syrians.

Nowhere to Turn for Help

The Turkish authorities consider Syrians denied registration to be in the country unlawfully. Nongovernmental groups working with refugees said the government only allows them to work with lawfully present asylum seekers and refugees.

Six organizations working with refugees in Turkey’s provinces on the Syrian border – which asked to remain anonymous for the staff’s security – said Turkey strictly controls and monitors their work in various ways.

Some said they must get special permission to assess registered Syrians’ assistance needs or to visit registered Syrians’ homes, in some cases in the presence of staff from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. The agencies said the rules are applied in an ad hoc and unpredictable way, depending on the local authorities, and they are never certain of what refugee outreach activities are allowed.

As a result, they said, they found it difficult to identify Syrians blocked from registration procedures, including the most vulnerable, for example those in urgent need of medical or other care. They also said the situation in Hatay province – through which almost all newly arriving Syrians using smugglers enter the country due to continued gaps in the border wall – is particularly sensitive.

Because of the restrictions imposed by the Turkish authorities, aid agencies said they cannot proactively identify unregistered Syrian refugees. At best, they can only react if they are made aware of unregistered Syrians who are seeking help, or if they come across them by chance. They said they sometimes raise the most vulnerable of such cases with the authorities in the hope that they will allow those in urgent need to register.

One agency working in the border areas said: “It’s very simple, we can’t just reach out to registered or unregistered Syrians. We need approval for everything and we’d never get approval to help unregistered Syrians.” Another agency worker said: “We have repeatedly asked the authorities for permission to do protection outreach work, but we’ve been refused every time.”

Agencies said their extremely limited contact with unregistered Syrians means they can neither estimate how many unregistered Syrians now live in Hatay and other provinces, nor the extent to which the registration suspension has led to deportation and denial of service access. EU member states and other donors funding Syrian refugee assistance and protection projects in Turkey therefore don’t know the extent to which Turkey’s registration suspension is excluding Syrians from receiving help.

European Union Remains Silent

EU member states and the European Commission have remained publicly silent on Turkey’s registration suspension, as they have on Turkey’s long-standing abuses against Syrian asylum seekers at the border.

Turkey’s suspension of registration could drive many Syrians underground and onward to the EU, or coerce them into going back to Syria. The suspension, Turkey’s ongoing border abuses, and its recent abuses against Afghan asylum seekers means that any attempts to return Syrians from Greece to Turkey is also likely to be met with significant resistance by lawyers challenging return attempts on the grounds that Turkey is not a safe third country to which to return asylum seekers.

On April 17, the European Commission released its latest update on whether Turkey is meeting the EU’s criteria for becoming an EU member state. As part of its assessment of Turkey’s asylum system, the commission said: “There have been reports of alleged expulsions, returns and deportations of Syrian nationals, in contradiction of the non-refoulement principle,” without going into any further details or citing the sources.

In March, the European Commission promised to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 deal with Turkey. Under the deal, the EU maintains that Turkey is a safe country to which to return Syrian asylum seekers. In fact, Turkey does not meet the EU safe third country criteria.

Recommendations

Turkey should resume temporary protection registration for all newly arriving Syrians and register those denied access to registration since late 2017. If necessary, Turkey should pre-register Syrians in its provinces on the Syrian border and require Syrians to move to, and live in, other provinces with fewer Syrians. In the meantime, Turkey should instruct all medical facilities to provide emergency medical treatment to any Syrian in need, regardless of registration status. Schools should also take in Syrian children pending their registration. All Turkish public officials should refer unregistered Syrians to the nearest registration center.

Turkey should also allow all refugee agencies working with Syrians to actively work to identify unregistered Syrians, help them access registration procedures, and raise with the authorities all cases of unregistered Syrians deported to Syria or denied access to health care and education.

To help ensure protection for Syrians in Turkey, the European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should press Turkey to resume registration of all newly arriving Syrians and guarantee their access to health care and education in line with existing policies. If Turkey requires help to resume registration, they should respond generously. They should also press Turkey to allow all agencies working with refugees to freely carry out protection monitoring work throughout Turkey to identify and assist unregistered Syrians and to publicly report on any abuses, including forced return to Syria, and denial of assistance.

Finally, the European Commission should proactively seek information and publicly report on credible accounts of killings, injuries, and mass deportations by Turkish security forces at the Syrian border, including in its regular reports on Turkey’s accession process and the European Agenda on Migration.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
 

Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant youths, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to. Hundreds of unaccompanied children sleep on the streets of Paris each night, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations.

(Paris) – Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant children, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Hundreds of these young migrants find themselves homeless, often condemned to sleep on the streets of Paris.

The 57-page report, “‘Like a Lottery’: Arbitrary Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Paris”, found that arbitrary practices can lead to unaccompanied children being erroneously considered adults, leaving then ineligible for emergency shelter and other protection given to children. Many youths who request protection from the child welfare system are turned away summarily and inaccurately, based on appearance alone. Others are rejected without written decisions after interviews lasting as little as five minutes, contrary to French regulations.
 

“These children have suffered through incredibly difficult and dangerous journeys, only to be deprived of the protection and care they need,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Deeply flawed procedures mean that children may be arbitrarily turned away at the door of the evaluation office, denied protection after a short interview, or tied up in arduous court procedures and left in limbo for months.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 49 unaccompanied children and reviewed age assessments in an additional 35 cases. Human Rights Watch also spoke with lawyers, health care providers, staff and volunteers of humanitarian agencies and informal associations, and government officials.

Youths who receive full interviews are often denied recognition as children if they lack identity documents, Human Rights Watch found. But international standards and French regulations establish that the primary method of establishing approximate age should be through interviews, recognizing that documents may be lost during arduous journeys.

Even those who have documents are frequently rejected. Child welfare authorities and judges question birth certificates, passports, and other identity documents despite the rule in French law that such documents are presumptively valid unless there are substantiated reasons to believe otherwise.

The review of case files found other invalid grounds for concluding that a person was an adult. Work in the home country or on the journey to Europe was frequently cited, even though millions of children around the world work, including in hazardous or harmful forms of labor. Child protection authorities also often cited the youth’s decision to travel without parents, though many thousands of children travel on their own to Europe each year.

In other cases, examiners told youths from French-speaking countries that they spoke French too well. Imrane O., from Côte d’Ivoire, who gave his age as 15, told Human Rights Watch that his examiner “said that I was answering her questions too well. Because I could answer her questions, I couldn’t be a minor. How is that? I did eight years of schooling, in French. Of course I could answer her questions.”

In the cases studied, child protection authorities also frequently relied on subjective factors such as “bearing” or comportment. Some youths received adverse age assessments based in part on expressing irritation with repeated questioning or presenting their case forcefully, behaviors that can be exhibited at any age. Many more were simply told they had the bearing of an adult, without further explanation.

When children seek review of adverse decisions, some judges regularly order bone tests to determine their age. Medical bodies in France and elsewhere have repeatedly found that bone and other medical examinations are not a reliable means of determining age, particularly for older adolescents, and have called for ending their use.

The cumulative effect of arbitrary decision-making is that age assessments in Paris are “like a lottery: sometimes you win, but most of the time you lose, even if you’re underage,” an aid worker with the nongovernmental organization Utopia 56 told Human Rights Watch.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Paris, as well as in France overall, has increased in recent years. France’s child welfare system took more than 25,000 unaccompanied migrant children into care in 2017, an increase of 92 percent from the previous year. Nearly half of unaccompanied children who seek protection from the child welfare system in France do so in Paris. In February 2018, when Human Rights Watch began this research, an estimated 400 unaccompanied children were “sleeping rough” (outside) in the French capital, , according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations. Current estimates are lower.

Ordinary citizens, on their own and in groups, have stepped in to address some of these children’s needs, providing food and other services, organizing football clubs, improvisational theatre, and other activities, and in some cases opening their homes to give children a place to stay for a night or two, or even longer.

But these laudable efforts, along with services provided by nongovernmental groups such as Médécins sans Frontières and Utopia 56, depend on volunteers and cannot meet the need. In contrast, France has both the means and the obligation to provide appropriate care and protection to all children within French territory, regardless of migration status.

French national and departmental authorities should ensure that age assessments are used only when authorities have well-founded doubts about an individual’s claim to be under 18, Human Rights Watch said. In such cases, they should take appropriate steps to determine age and establish eligibility for services, bearing in mind that all age assessments will be estimates. These steps should include interviews by professionals with the expertise to work with children, as international standards recommend.

France also should end the use of bone tests and similar discredited medical examinations.

“Instead of giving youths the benefit of the doubt, as they should, child protection services seem to be doing everything they can to exclude youths from the child care system,” Jeannerod said. “The French authorities should immediately put an end to arbitrary age decisions and provide sufficient resources to take care of and protect unaccompanied migrant children.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws.

Helal, 10, works as a brick maker at a brick kiln outside Kabul. He told Human Rights Watch that the brick mold is heavy and his hands hurt working with wet clay. Helal doesn’t go to school because he has to work. 

© 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch

The 31-page report, “‘They Bear All the Pain’: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers work dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry; as bonded labor in brick kilns; and as metal workers. They perform tasks that could result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards. Many children who work under those conditions combine the burdens of a job with school, or forego education altogether. Working compels many children in Afghanistan to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labor attend school. 

“Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.”

The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws. 

The government has failed to enforce prohibitions against child labor in hazardous industries, and has stalled in its effort to overhaul its labor law to bring it into line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Government institutions responsible for enforcing the law often lack the capacity to inspect workplaces, with the result that children working in prohibited jobs go unnoticed and unprotected.

In 2014, the Afghan government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children. These jobs include carpet weaving, metal work, and brick making. While a lack of resources is an important factor in the persistence of child labor in hazardous industries, the Afghan government has also failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labor conditions.

A brick kiln manager in Kabul told Human Rights Watch: “There are children here, starting from 10 years or 8 years of age to 15 or 16… They wake up at 3 in the morning and work until about evening… They complain of pain, but what can they do? The kids are here to make a living. They bear all the pain to do all the work.”

Extreme poverty often drives Afghan children into hazardous labor. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment, and continuing armed conflict in much of the country are among the most important factors contributing to chronic poverty and, as a result, child labor.

A 13-year-old metal worker in Kabul said, “My fingers have been cut from the sharp edges of the metal and slammed by the hammer. My finger has also been caught in the trimming-beading machine. When your nail gets hit by a hammer or caught in the machine, it becomes black and eventually falls off.”

Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table. The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

While work that is appropriate to a child’s age and under healthy and safe conditions can be beneficial to the child’s development and allow them to contribute to their family’s basic needs, work that interferes with a child’s education, or is likely to jeopardize their health or safety, is generally considered “child labor” and is prohibited under international law.

Although pilot projects extending community-based schools to reach vulnerable children have been promising, support for these schools is inadequate to the need. Eradicating child labor in Afghanistan is not feasible so long as extreme poverty continues, but the government and its donors can take steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

Those steps include increasing the number of labor inspectors to adequately cover the entire country; giving priority to monitoring hazardous sectors; and offering the Afghan government targeted technical assistance in devising and implementing policies, standards, and regulations against child labor. Both the government and its foreign donors should devote more resources to expanding educational support to all working children.

The government has a legal obligation under international law to take immediate action to eradicate hazardous child labor. Both Afghanistan and its foreign donors should take urgent steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

“When children are of legal age and work in safe conditions, they can help provide vital livelihood support for many Afghan families,” Kine said. “But the Afghan government has an obligation to enforce the laws that protect children in the workplace, and ensure that they neither have to sacrifice their education or safety as the price for supporting their families.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zama Neff is the executive director of the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch. She also co-chairs the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Neff has conducted fact-finding investigations and is the author of reports and articles on a range of issues affecting children, including access to education, police violence, refugee protection, the worst forms of child labor, and discrimination against women and girls. She has published on op-ed pages in major international and US publications and speaks regularly to the media. During a sabbatical, she ran a protection monitoring team for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sri Lanka. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1999, Neff clerked for a US federal judge, advocated on behalf of immigrants and refugees in the US, and worked with community development and women's organizations in Honduras. She is a graduate of Davidson College and New York University School of Law.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People are seen near a bus destroyed by an airstrike that killed dozens of children, on August 12, 2018 in Saada, Yemen.

© 2018 Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images

Investigating the terrible toll that the war in Yemen is inflicting on civilians has become, sadly, a regular occurrence for human rights investigators.

We and others have documented scores of unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition that have killed hundreds of civilians in Yemen. We have shown that the coalition’s blockade makes it harder to get vital humanitarian aid into the country. And we have sounded the alarm that the coalition, and the Houthi armed group it’s fighting, are accelerating the country’s march towards catastrophic famine.

But then came last week’s deadly airstrike on a bus filled with children.

At least 21 boys were killed when coalition forces struck the vehicle in Houthi-held northern Yemen. Another 35 were wounded. One distressing video shows a very young boy being treated at a hospital. His face is bloodied, his clothes torn, his face a picture of blank bewilderment. He is still wearing a tiny blue backpack.

This video, awful as it is, shows all too clearly the cost of Yemen’s war on civilians. But the attack also shows the callous indifference of the Western powers enthusiastically arming the coalition. How have the United States and the United Kingdom, who have sold billions in arms to Saudi Arabia since the war began in March 2015, reacted to this incident?

Have they suspended their arms sales to the coalition? They have not.

Have they demanded United Nations sanctions on coalition leaders commanding the forces responsible for repeated laws-of-war violations in Yemen? They have not.

Instead the UK government spoke of its “deep concern” about civilian deaths, while the US says it’s sufficient for the Saudi-led coalition alone to investigate the attack. This is the same coalition that has failed time and again to credibly investigate its own allegedly unlawful airstrikes and, contrary to UN and human rights groups’ findings, has repeatedly found no evidence coalition forces violated the laws of war.

If key arms suppliers are genuinely intent on minimizing civilian harm in Yemen, this horrific incident should mark the point of no return. Weapons sales to Saudi Arabia should be immediately suspended. And the UK government should say publicly that these continued apparent war crimes necessitate the renewal and strengthening of the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen – charged with investigating violations in the country – at the UN Human Rights Council this September.

If the deaths of so many children in a single day doesn’t stir the conscience, what will?

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zagidat Abakarova, 33, and her one-year-old daughter Mariam, returned to Dagestan, Russia, from northern Syria in October 2018

© Tanya Lokshina

“I thought she was in Turkey, close to the Syrian border, but still in Turkey… and then they told me she was in Iraq.” Galina’s eyes fill with tears as she picks at her salad in a Grozny cafeteria. “She is in prison in Baghdad.”

Galina Pratsak, 59, arrived in Chechnya from Bryansk, central Russia, hours before we met, hoping to retrieve her grandchildren from Baghdad with the help of a program for returning Russian women and children from Iraq and Syria. The program was started about a year ago by Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, with the Kremlin’s support.

Between August 2017 and February 2018, over 90 children and women arrived in Russia under its auspices, on special “humanitarian” flights to Grozny, Chechnya’s capital. Among those already returned are Russian nationals from Chechnya, Dagestan, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Oryol, and Moscow, as well as several from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and other countries of the former Soviet Union. Most of the returnees are children. The few women who have returned are those the authorities in the areas of their capture chose not to prosecute. But now the program seems to have been suspended, without explanation.

Most of the foreign women and children currently in detention in Iraq belong to a group of more than 1,400 foreigners detained by Iraqi forces last August after the battle for the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) stronghold of Tal Afar ended. Since January, Iraq has proceeded with rushed trials against foreign women on charges of illegal entry and membership in or assistance to IS without sufficiently taking into account the individual circumstances of each case and sentencing most to life in prison or death by execution. Over 20 women of Russian origin already tried have all received life sentences.

Globally, Russia had the most active program to return detainees from Iraq and Syria, notably women and children. In fact, with Indonesia, Russia was the only country to take back women and children—until the US recently took back one American woman and her children. Some EU countries have taken nationals from Iraq but none from Syria so far (at least not publicly). All in all, when Russia’s returns program was launched in 2017, it represented a good practice. However, it is no longer active.

A Life Sentence in Iraq

In July, an Iraqi criminal court handed Galina’s daughter, 31-year-old Elena, a life sentence for illegal entry into Iraq and for supporting IS. She is in prison in Baghdad with her four children. The two older ones, Lilya and Rustam, were born in Bryansk, in 2008 and 2013 respectively. The younger ones are two-and-a-half-year-old Sakina and 16-month-old Djafar. Their grandmother said she found out only in December that they had been born in Iraq, in areas under IS control.

“We had video chats all the time,” she told me. “But it was always from inside the house. Her place was comfortable, and she and the kids seemed happy. And then toward the end of August last year, she sent me several messages saying things weren’t good any longer and she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t share any details, wouldn’t answer my questions, wouldn’t put the video on. I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then, they just disappeared. Months went by before I found out she and the kids were jailed in Baghdad, with other [captured] women and children.”

Galina is Russian Orthodox. Her daughter married a man of Tajik origin who was not religious but didn’t mind when Galina baptized Lilya. He was naturalized in Russia and joined the Russian army when Lilya was a baby. Instead of returning home after two years of service, he travelled to Tajikistan. Elena and Lilya stayed with Galina. Lilya was two-and-a-half when Galina realized, while giving her a bath, that the girl’s little cross was missing. She asked Elena about it, and her daughter said she and Lilya had embraced Islam.

“A few weeks later, she started wearing a long skirt and full sleeves. Eventually, she donned a hijab. Then, she told me her husband had moved to Turkey and she and Lilya will join him there. So, they left,” Galina said.

Elena kept in touch with her mother, and in early 2013 returned to Bryansk, five months pregnant. She gave birth to Rustam and stayed at her mother’s home with the children until he was 14 months old before returning, supposedly to Turkey. Soon afterward, Elena told Galina during one of their frequent chats that the children’s father died and that Elena had remarried.

She gave birth to Sakina and Djafar with her second husband and kept reassuring Galina that he was a good man and treated the children from her first marriage just like his own. Galina enjoyed her video sessions with Elena and the kids. She would have preferred to have them close by, but at least it seemed her daughter had a beautiful family and kept a good house.

Elena was last in contact with Galina on August 26, 2017. As time went by with no updates from her daughter, Galina did not know where to turn. Finally, on December 20, the human rights ombudsman for Bryansk shocked her with the news that Elena and the children were in an Iraqi jail, and that Elena was awaiting trial on charges of membership in IS.

Human Rights Watch cannot determine what Elena’s role was during the time she lived in IS-controlled territory. Her mother, however, is adamant.

“Yes, I understand, it’s a terrorist organization and my daughter lived under their auspices.” Galina looks up from her barely touched plate of food. “But she is no terrorist! The pregnancies, the births, the nursing, the household—that’s all she did. And they [Iraqi authorities] are saying that as long as she lived with one of those men, cooked, cleaned, it makes her a participant and she will spend the rest of her life in jail. I just cannot wrap my brain around it…”

Human Rights Watch has interviewed close relatives of four of these women in Russia and they all emphasized, like Galina, that the women’s activities in IS were limited to having children and taking care of the household.

Respecting Due Process

Although Human Rights Watch cannot verify the claims about any particular woman’s role under IS, there have been well-publicized reports indicating that under IS many women were limited to homemaking and most were subject to restrictions on their movement. Basic due process requires that any prosecutions guarantee women the opportunities to raise defenses, including whether they were coerced or did not knowingly engage in criminal conduct. Courts should examine evidence regarding each woman’s actions and issue convictions and sentences only where they are supported by evidence of individual culpability.

Iraq should change its approach and consider alternatives to criminal prosecution for those against whom there is no evidence that they were combatants or involved in committing serious crimes. Russia should consider repeated requests by the relatives of already sentenced women to discuss with the Iraqi government the possibility of transferring the women to Russia to serve their sentences on Russian soil.

With respect to foreign children, their well being should be a priority for all parties involved. In December 2017, just a few days before Galina found out about the fate of her daughter and grandchildren, President Putin said in a news conference, “Children, when taken to armed conflict zones, did not make a decision to go there and we have no right to abandon them there.” He commended Kadyrov on his work on returns.

Many families desperate to bring their loved ones back from Syria and Iraq took his words as a sign that the returns program would be further developed and many more flights with returnees would follow. Instead, the program appears to have been suspended in early 2018, with no explanation. The families knock on all doors, but their increasingly desperate questions remain unanswered.

Russia should resume the returns of children, either under the auspices of the so-called Kadyrov program or by other means. In carrying out the returns, Russian authorities should not discriminate between children born on Russian soil and children born to a parent of Russian origin, as long as the best interests of the children are being served and parental consent for the children’s return is sought.

Galina came to Grozny to hand over her grandchildren’s birth certificates and give power of attorney to a leading representative of Kadyrov’s returns program, who promised to bring the children back to Russia if the circumstances allow.

“They don’t know when, but they will try… Though I thought all the four kids could be brought back but they’re now saying it’s only about the two elder ones because the littlest ones weren’t born here. So, at least those two… But what about the other two? What will happen to them? And my daughter, will she die there in jail? Couldn’t she serve her sentence in Russia? I’d bring the children to visit her as often as possible. If I get the children back, that is,” Galina sighs looking at me for answers, answers I don’t have.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

For the second time this month, Tajikistan’s government has allowed a child of exiled dissidents to leave the country and reunite with their family living abroad.

Tajik authorities have placed 10-year-old Fatima Davlyatova, daughter of peaceful political activist, Shabnam Khudoydodova, on a watch list and prevented her from leaving to Europe to reunite with her mother.

© Khudoydodova family

The children – Ibrohim Hamza, aged 4, and Fatima Davlyatova, aged 10 – are unrelated apart from one thing: They had effectively been held hostage for years – banned from leaving the country since a severe human rights crackdown picked up steam in 2015 – to punish their parents abroad for peaceful political and human rights work.

It was just over a week ago that authorities pulled Fatima Davlyatova, along with her grandmother and uncle, from an international flight just before take-off, blocking them from traveling to Europe to reunite with Fatima’s mother, activist Shabnam Khudoydodova.

But a dramatic reversal happened two days ago, on August 11: Following an international outcry, security officers – with apparent support from top government officials – gave the family new tickets to fly out.

In Hamza’s case, the travel ban could have killed him. Hamza is severely ill, but Tajik authorities had prevented him and his mother traveling abroad for necessary treatment, before finally relenting on August 2. His father and grandfather are both opposition politicians living in exile.

Even though the government’s actions were very late in coming, it has acted correctly in allowing ordinary Tajik citizens to leave the country. As Hugh Philipott, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Tajikistan tweeted about Fatima’s flight out, the government’s “excellent decision” allowed “three generations (to be) reunited.” #TheRightThingToDo, he added.

However, allowing these children to leave is only the very tip of the iceberg in terms of ending the government’s practice of harassing relatives of exiled activists and politicians, or indeed of ending the human rights crisis that has gripped the country for the last three years. In September 2015, the main opposition party was banned, kicking off an intense downward spiral of repression and human rights abuses.

Yet change has to start somewhere for the poorest country in Central Asia, already facing many development and security challenges. Let’s hope the happiness allowed to two small children could also be a turning point in the government’s respect for human rights.  

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Video footage of a boy being beaten by police in Kimbe, Papua New Guinea.

© 2018 Private

(Sydney) – Papua New Guinean authorities should promptly conduct a thorough and credible investigation into the beating of a boy by police in Kimbe, West New Britain, that was captured on video and shared on social media, Human Rights Watch said today. The investigation should be capable not just of identifying the police responsible, but of prosecuting and punishing them.

A young boy is beaten by police in Kimbe, West New Britain,  Papua New Guinea. 

The graphic video shows two armed police officers hitting the naked boy with sticks, kicking him in the head, and dragging him along rocks on the ground. At one point, a police officer puts a gun to the boy's head. The boy cries and pleads with the officers.

Police Commissioner Gari Baki said the incident occurred a week and a half ago, and that he has ordered a "full investigation into the incident"; Baki confirmed the officers responsible will be interviewed as part of the investigation and conceded that "police brutality continues to be disregarded by a few officers."

"Announcing an investigation into this shocking incident is the first step, but authorities should ensure that it is independent and transparent, and that police found responsible are prosecuted," said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. "This is not just a few bad apples. Police abuse in Papua New Guinea is sadly widespread, and it will only end when abusive officers are held to account for their crimes."

A spokesperson for the Papua New Guinea police reportedly said that the boy in the video was hospitalized but is now "OK" and has been released into his parents' care. Human Rights Watch has been unable to confirm the location of the boy or his condition.

The Minister for Police Jelta Wong MP responded that, "the Commissioner has been tasked to provide answers and appropriate action against the perpetrators. Like all our leaders, I have seen this video and personally was sickened by the actions taken by the 2 members of the RPNGC [Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary]."

Papua New Guinea has a long history of police abuse, which continues with little accountability, even for fatalities and egregious physical abuse. In 2005 and 2006, Human Rights Watch documented widespread police violence, including brutal beatings, rape, and torture, against children in police custody. Beatings are so routine that police make little or no attempt to hide them, beating children in public. Police rarely provide medical care, even when victims are seriously injured.

In the past, public pressure over specific incidents of excessive use of force, has led the police to announce investigations into allegations of police violence, including the shooting of eight student protesters in 2016. But the findings of such investigations are rarely made public and officers have rarely, if ever, been convicted.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has said she will raise the incident with Papua New Guinea's foreign affairs minister, Rimbink Pato. Bishop said that the incident indicates that, "Australia should continue to maintain a presence there, assisting, advising, [and] supporting the PNG police and PNG government."

Papua New Guinea is the largest per capita recipient of Australian development aid, with the Australian government providing A$58.9 million over two years for the Australian Federal Police to provide assistance to the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary. This includes basing 73 Australian Federal Police personnel in Papua New Guinea.

"The Australian government should closely monitor all incidents of police violence and benchmark further assistance to law enforcement upon progress in holding the perpetrators of police abuse to account," Pearson said. "Papua New Guinea authorities need to come clean about the results of previous investigations into excessive use of force, and ensure abusive officers are not simply quietly moved or dismissed but held to account for their actions."

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
(Berlin) – Tajik security services forced an activist’s 10-year-old daughter, elderly mother, and brother off an airplane at Tajikistan on August 4, 2018, seven human rights groups said today. They were on their way to Europe to reunite with the activist.

Tajik authorities have placed 10-year-old Fatima Davlyatova, daughter of peaceful political activist, Shabnam Khudoydodova, on a watch list and prevented her from leaving to Europe to reunite with her mother.

© Khudoydodova family

The Tajik government should immediately lift the politically motivated travel ban on the independent activist, Shabnam Khudoydodova’s, family and end its retaliation against relatives of government critics abroad, the groups said.

“The cruelty Tajik authorities have shown against this 10-year-old girl and her relatives simply for her mother’s peaceful criticism of the government is shocking,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “They should be allowed to leave Tajikistan immediately without any fear of retribution.”

The groups are Amnesty International, the Association of Central Asian Migrants, Freedom Now, Global Advocates Foundation, Human Rights Watch, the Human Rights Vision Foundation, and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

Early on August 4, Tajik security service officers boarded the plane on which Fatima Davlyatova, Shabnam Khudoydodova’s daughter, Gulidzhamilamo Khudoydodova, her mother, and Komron Khudoydodov, her brother, were waiting to depart, removed them from the flight, and banned them from traveling to Europe to reunite with her. The three were interrogated for several hours and forced to sign documents acknowledging that all of them, including the girl, were on a “wanted list.”

The travel ban is the latest in a long series of retaliatory actions against Khudoydodova’s family members, including violent attacks.

Khudoydodova, a former member of the peaceful political movement Group 24, was detained in Belarus for nine months in 2015 and 2016 under a Tajik extradition request and Interpol warrant. Following pressure from human rights groups and various governments, she was released in February 2016, after which she ceased her political opposition work, and took up human rights activism in Poland on behalf of Tajik asylum seekers there.

In September 2016, Khudoydodova participated in the annual Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, an intergovernmental human rights conference in Warsaw. On September 20, a day after Khudoydodova spoke at the conference, Tajik authorities directed an angry mob to attack her daughter, Fatima Davlyatova, at her school and then to attack her relatives in the family’s home in the city of Kulob, Tajikistan.

On December 29, 2016, security services went to Khudoydodova’s family home and confiscated Fatima’s passport and birth certificate, and the passports of her grandmother and other relatives in the house. The authorities threatened to prosecute them and place Fatima in an orphanage if anyone attempted to travel abroad. The passports and other personal documents were returned to the family a year later.

“Tajikistan’s treatment of this young girl and her family for no other reason than her mother’s peaceful political activity is as shameful as it is inexcusable,” said Bjorn Engsland, secretary general of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “Tajik authorities should immediately stop these acts of retaliation.”

Tajik authorities have regularly detained, threatened, and banned from travel family members – including wives and young children – of opposition activists abroad in retaliation for their relatives’ peaceful exercise of their fundamental rights, the groups said. Tajik security services officers and local officials have also publicly shamed and threatened to confiscate the property of the activists’ relatives, and in one case threatened to rape an activist’s daughter.

“The Tajik government’s vicious campaign of intimidation against dissidents’ relatives, including young children, is widening and becoming ever more brazen,” said Tomasz Klosowicz, president of the board of the Global Advocates Foundation. “Children should be allowed to be with their mother. This travel ban amounts to collective punishment sanctioned at the highest levels and should end immediately.”

On August 1, following an international outcry, the authorities allowed the four-year-old grandson of an exiled opposition leader to travel abroad for medical treatment.

Hundreds of political activists, including several human rights lawyers and journalists, such as Khayrullo Mirsaidov, have been jailed in Tajikistan as part of a widening crackdown on free expression. The US, the European Union, and other international entities should unequivocally call on the Tajik government to lift the politically motivated travel ban on Khudoydodova’s relatives and stop retaliating against relatives of perceived government critics, the groups said.

“Targeting dissidents’ families is a new low set by the government, and an especially despicable tactic,” said Maran Turner, executive director at Freedom Now. “Tajikistan’s international partners, including Brussels and Washington, must make a clear call for an end to this abuse.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Activist and photographer Shahidul Alam arrives surrounded by policemen for an appearance in a court, in Dhaka, Bangladesh on August 6, 2018. 

© 2018 MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images

(New York) – Instead of prosecuting those responsible for unlawfully attacking student protesters demanding road safety, Bangladesh authorities are arresting students and targeting activists and journalists who are highlighting the abuses, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities should order an immediate investigation into reports that renowned photographer and activist, Shahidul Alam, was beaten while in custody. Alam was detained on August 5, 2018, for criticizing the government and its supporters for targeting students.

Thousands of students, including school children, have been blocking streets to protest the July 29 killings of two students by a speeding bus. According to numerous witnesses, members of the ruling Awami League party student and youth wings, the Bangladesh Chhatra League, and the Awami Juba League, have attacked the protesters with machetes and sticks. Eyewitnesses and journalists, including Shahidul Alam, also reported that in some areas police stood by while children were beaten up by Awami League supporters, some of whom wore helmets to hide their identity. Some perpetrators were identified when the attacks were caught on camera.

“Yet again, Bangladesh authorities seem determined to take abusive shortcuts to problems, and then denounce those who criticize,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should immediately release anyone, including Shahidul Alam, they have locked up for peaceful criticism. Instead, authorities should prosecute those, including members of the ruling party’s youth supporters, who are attacking children with sticks and machetes.”

Following the protests, Bangladesh authorities have promised an end to reckless driving, to regulate traffic, and to enact a new Road Safety Act. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, however, warned protesters to “not to cross the limit,” or be prepared to face police action. Security forces used teargas, rubber bullets, and in some cases, live ammunition against protesters.

One protester told Human Rights Watch that about 500 students, many of them women and girls, had gathered in the Uttara area of Dhaka in the morning of August 5 to peacefully regulate traffic and enforce lane driving. Then several young men arrived on motorbikes, carrying machetes and sticks. “They said, ‘You must leave. The prime minister has asked us to come sort you out.’” The protester said his group asked the women and girls to run away since there are reports that several have been sexually abused during attacks on other protests. The attackers, all wearing helmets to hide their identity, started beating the students. “The police just stood there. They were taking pictures and videos to be able to identify the protesters. They did not stop the attacks.”

Similar attacks were reported in other areas of Dhaka. Some 20 journalists, particularly photographers and videographers, were beaten up for documenting the attacks, according to media reports. While some attackers wore helmets, the journalists identified some of their attackers to be Awami League youth members.

Internationally acclaimed photographer and activist, Shahidul Alam, founder of the Drik Gallery, was detained by members of the Detective Branch of the Bangladesh police at 10 p.m. from his house in Dhaka on August 5, hours after an interview with Al Jazeera where he said that “the police specifically asked for help from armed goons to combat unarmed students demanding safe roads.” He also denounced the government in the interview for “[the] looting of banks, the gagging of media, …extra judicial killings, the disappearances, the protection money at all levels, [and] corruption in education.”

The police have filed a case against Alam under Section 57 of Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT Act), which authorizes the prosecution of any person who publishes, in electronic form, material that is fake and obscene; defamatory; “tends to deprave and corrupt” its audience; causes, or may cause, “deterioration in law and order;” prejudices the image of the state or a person; or “causes or may cause hurt to religious belief.” The overly broad law has been repeatedly used to prosecute those who criticize the government or individual politicians.

Authorities have also restricted access to telecommunications networks across the country since August 4, saying that these shutdowns are needed to prevent violence fueled by rumors circulated on social media or mobile messaging applications. Several others are also facing prosecutions under the ICT Act for criticizing the government and posting videos of the protests on Facebook.

In other ongoing unrest, earlier on August 4, unknown attackers, allegedly government supporters, stoned the vehicle of outgoing US ambassador to Bangladesh, Marcia Bernicat, as she was leaving the residence of Badiul Alam Majumder, secretary of civil society advocacy group Shujan, after a farewell dinner. They then attacked Majumder’s house.

The Bangladesh government should ensure that security forces respect basic human rights standards on the use of force, including in dispersing demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said. The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that officials “shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force.” When using force is unavoidable, officials must exercise restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense.

“It would be shameful if the Sheikh Hasina government is deploying party hoodlums to target students for demanding safe roads,” said Adams. “Bangladeshi authorities must immediately halt the violence perpetrated by government supporters against protesters and journalists and respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

"I get depressed here. I want to go to a good school to study," said a bright, 12-year-old girl from Afghanistan, who's been stuck for six months in the grim Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. "If we don't study we won't have a future and we won't become successful."

Greece is denying thousands of asylum-seeking children their right to an education because of a European Union-backed migration policy that traps them on the Aegean islands.

The European Commission's humanitarian agency agrees: "education is crucial" for girls and boys affected by crises, and is "one of the best tools to invest in their long-term future."

So one might expect that the European Union would demand to see educational results for its money in Greece, where by some counts it has spent over $14,000 [€12,100] in aid for every migrant and asylum seeker.

One would be wrong, especially when it comes to asylum-seeking and migrant children stuck on the Aegean islands.

The importance of children having an education seems to have been trumped by a Greek government policy, backed by the EU, of keeping most asylum seekers who arrive by sea from Turkey confined to the islands until their asylum claims are adjudicated, rather than transferring them to the mainland where services are better.

Human Rights Watch research has found that on the Aegean islands, where at any given time there are more than 3,000 school-age asylum-seeking children, fewer than 400 are in school.

In Syria, which many of the refugees are fleeing, net primary school enrollment was 63 percent in 2013(the latest available figures), two years after the war erupted.

Greece has opened pre-school classes for some children in the government-run camps on the islands. But the other children in those camps – unlike children in camps on the mainland – have no access to formal education.

Overcrowded camps

The Greek education ministry has opened formal classes tailored to children who do not speak Greek and who have been out of school, but they serve only a small number who were allowed to leave the government camps for shelters or subsidised housing.

Right now the Greek authorities are trying to close a volunteer shelter that was the first on the islands to help asylum seeking children enrol in public schools.

The Greek government has claimed it is impractical to provide access to education to children in the island camps, since they are "on the move." In reality, new arrivals to the islands continue to outpace deportations to Turkey and transfers to the mainland.

Colleagues and I met children who had been stuck in the overcrowded, unsanitary, dangerous camps for up to 11 months without even the respite that going to school could provide.

Greek law makes education compulsory from ages five to 15 and provides that all children have the right to go to school, including asylum seekers without all their papers.

So it was welcome news in April 2018 when Greece's highest court ruled that there was no basis in law for containing new arrivals on the Aegean islands. But while the government has transferred over 10,000 people since November to the mainland, where there are more educational resources, it refused to implement the ruling and instead adopted a law to reinstate the policy.

Wishful thinking

The Greek ministry for migration policy has also played an opaque and at times unhelpful role, blocking the education ministry from opening more classes on the islands in 2017.

Education is critical to refugee children's ability to integrate and contribute in Europe. And investing in education more than pays for itself; every dollar spent on education reaps two in earnings and health benefits.

Despite all that EU money, Greece seems to do a worse job educating asylum seeker children than countries like Jordan and Turkey, which have lower gross national incomes per capita and vastly more refugee children, and enrolment rates above 60 percent.

By one count, enrollment in Greece was 55 percent – and that only counted the minority of children outside camps across the country, not the majority who are in camps.

Despite the wishful thinking of some European politicians, there is little prospect that most asylum-seeking children in Greece will go to Turkey any time soon. Greece faces a choice between squandering the talents and harming the integration and future of thousands of children or doing the right thing and making sure they can go to school.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Tens of thousands of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers are banned or discouraged from attending school across Africa.

In Zambia, 28 percent of girls and young women aged 15 to 19 are mothers or have been pregnant. That is more than 275,000 teenagers. In addition to this staggering rate of adolescent pregnancy, only 50 percent of girls who become pregnant go back to school.

Zambia has had a re-entry policy since 1997 allowing girls to return to school after having a child. It was a positive step toward upholding girls’ basic right to education, expanding their future job options, and contributing to the country’s economic progress.

But many young mothers are still dropping out of school, because the government isn’t putting the policy into practice.  

Earlier this summer, I met with local groups working on this issue in Zambia. In an unassuming office – decorated with girl’s education awareness posters – in Lusaka, the capital, one advocate told me that while the government often touts the policy, its commitment is seriously lacking. She told me that school officials are not trained on the policy guidelines and “some have never even seen a copy.” The government doesn’t monitor school compliance, and there are no consequences if they don’t respect girls’ right to be in school.

Adolescent mothers lack the mental health and logistical support the policy requires, such as assistance with paperwork for school leave. And many encounter stigma and ridicule in school. Faith-based schools, including those with state funding, often force girls who become mothers to transfer to other schools, deeming them a “bad influence.”

The government has a national strategy plan to address Zambia’s child marriage rates, which are among the highest in the world. The plan recognizes that encouraging adolescent mothers to return to school lessens the likelihood that they will marry before age 18, but this strategy can’t succeed unless schools carry it out.

The government should direct all schools to respect the policy, and provide guidance on pragmatic ways schools can support young mothers. It should make sure that school staff know about and comply with the policy guidelines, and that they are accountable if they don’t. Trained counselors should meaningfully support pregnant girls and adolescent mothers and help them return to school. Adequately trained teachers should provide education for all students about sexuality and reproductive health.

It has been more than 20 years since the Zambian government promised that young mothers could return to school. The government shouldn’t delay any longer making sure that girls can complete their education, regardless of pregnancy or motherhood.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Tents are seen at a makeshift migrant camp on a street near the metro stations of Jaures and Stalingrad in Paris, France, October 28, 2016

© 2016 Reuters

In France, asylum seekers are sleeping rough, and flawed procedures often leave unaccompanied migrant children adrift, homeless, and excluded from the care they need.

But instead of addressing these challenges or correcting flaws in existing laws, legislators have decided to push through a problematic new asylum and migration law that could make it harder for people to get needed protection.

The main aim of the law, passed August 1, seems to be to make it harder to obtain asylum.  Applications now need to be made within 90 days upon entering French territory or face a fast-track process with fewer safeguards.

Appeal rights have been curbed. Some asylum seekers who are rejected, including those from countries deemed “safe,” may be deported even before the asylum court rules on their appeal. While safe removal of rejected asylum seekers is a valid policy, the new rules substantially increase the risk that people who need protection could be wrongly removed to face death, torture, or other irreparable harm.

The European Court of Human Rights has criticized France in the past for a system that allows fast-tracked asylum seekers to be removed before appeals are heard. The new law is likely to face similar scrutiny in the courts.  

There are some positives in the new law. It extends residence permits from one to four years for persons given ‘subsidiary’ protection, but not full refugee status, and removes from the list of safe countries of origin those whose governments persecute LGBT people.

The law also creates an exception to the crime of helping undocumented migrants when done for “a strictly humanitarian objective.” But lawmakers had little choice given the recent Constitutional Court ruling that solidarity should not be criminalized, and some groups are worried that judges could narrowly interpret the humanitarian exception in a way that permits prosecutions.

The National Assembly missed the opportunity to ban family detention, even though the Senate had proposed to limit that form of detention to five days. The final law doubles maximum detention pending deportation from 45 to 90 days, including for accompanied children, although they have pledged to propose separate legislation to curb detention of children in the coming months.

It is shameful that rather than addressing dire situations faced by many asylum seekers and migrants, France’s lawmakers decided to weaken safeguards for asylum.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A man with a gun and a metal detector poses for photographers (unseen) while he stands outside a school after it reopened in Peshawar January 12, 2015.

© 2018 Reuters/ Khuram Parvez

(New York) – Alleged militants attacked and burned down at least 12 schools in Diamer district of Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region early on August 3, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. At least half were girls’ schools. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The Pakistani government should take urgent measures to make schools safer, and fairly prosecute those responsible for attacks against students, teachers, and schools.

“The devastating attacks on schools in Diamer highlight the dangers that many students and teachers in Pakistan face on a regular basis,” said Bede Sheppard, deputy children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should promptly investigate and prosecute these attacks and ensure that children have a safe place to attend school.”

Pakistan faces significant education challenges, with an estimated 25 million children out of school. Militant violence has disrupted the education of hundreds of thousands of children, particularly girls. Militant Islamist groups, including the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and their affiliates, attack schools and universities to foster intolerance and exclusion, target symbols of the government, and particularly to drive girls out of school.

Militants have previously targeted girls’ schools in Diamer district. In February 2004, attackers destroyed nine schools, eight of them for girls. Explosives hit two girls’ schools in December 2011.

The nongovernmental awareness campaign Alif Ailaan reported that Diamer is the lowest-ranked district in terms of quality of education in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, and is among the 10 lowest ranked in the country. Only 3,479 girls are among the 16,800 students enrolled in government schools in the district, which has 88 government schools for girls and 156 for boys.

After the Taliban took over large parts of the Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 2007, it began a violent campaign against education for girls. Over 900 girls’ schools were forced to close and over 120,000 girls stopped attending school. About 8,000 female teachers were driven out of work. For many girls, the loss was permanent, and they were not able to return to school even after the army displaced the Taliban.

The Pakistani government says it does not collect specific data on attacks on schools and universities, or on deaths and injuries from such attacks. However, according to the Global Terrorism Database, there were 867 attacks on educational institutions in Pakistan from 2007 to 2015, resulting in 392 fatalities and 724 injuries. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack recorded at least 203 attacks on schools in Pakistan between 2013 and 2017.

The government’s failure to keep consistent and transparent national data about such attacks raises serious concerns about its ability to track repairs of damaged schools, identify trends that could help create  measures to protect schools, or investigate and prosecute the people responsible, Human Rights Watch said.

The attacks on Malala Yousafzai, who later became a Nobel peace Prize laureate, on October 9, 2012, and on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014, which killed at least 145 people, mostly students, directed international spotlight on the threat to education in Pakistan.

In some areas, government forces have used educational institutions, including both schools and college housing, as temporary or permanent barracks or military bases. When educational facilities are used for military purposes, it places them at increased risk of attack. The government should issue clear and public orders to Pakistan security forces to curtail the military use of schools.

Pakistan should develop a comprehensive policy for protecting students – especially girls – as well as teachers, schools, and universities from attack and military use, and involve all concerned ministry staff at central and local levels in carrying out this strategy, Human Rights Watch said.

Securing schools has been largely left to the provincial governments, whose efforts have been sporadic, varying across provinces with little attention to protecting girls’ education. In most cases, responsibility for enhancing and maintaining security has fallen to hard-pressed school authorities.

Pakistan’s federal government should cooperate with provincial and regional authorities to create a rapid response system for attacks on schools. Schools should quickly be repaired or rebuilt, with destroyed educational material replaced, so that children can return to school as soon as possible. Schools should operate in alternate sites during reconstruction, and students should have mental health support as needed.

Pakistan should join the 80 countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, a non-binding political agreement opened for state support at an international conference in Oslo, Norway, in May 2015. Countries that endorse the Safe Schools Declaration pledge to restore access to education when schools are attacked and undertake measures to make it less likely that students, teachers, and schools will be attacked. They agree to deter such attacks by promising to investigate and prosecute crimes involving schools, and to minimize the use of schools for military purposes so they do not become targets for attack.

“The Pakistani government should do all it can to deter future attacks on education, beginning with improving school security and providing the public with reliable information on threats,” Sheppard said. “Attacks on education not only harm the students and families directly affected, but also have an incalculable long-term negative effect on Pakistani society.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Ain Issa displaced persons camp, one of three camps in northeast Syria where Human Rights Watch found the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) have been recruiting children for military participation, June 2017.

© 2017 Chris Huby/Le Pictorium/Barc/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

(Beirut) – The People’s Protection Units (YPG), the largest member of the Syrian Democratic Forces military alliance in northeast Syria, has been recruiting children, including girls, and using some in hostilities despite pledges to stop the practice, Human Rights Watch said today.

Recent data from the United Nations showed a disturbingly high increase in child recruitment by the YPG last year. The armed group should immediately demobilize children in its ranks and stop recruiting children, including from families in displacement camps under their control. International law prohibits non-state armed groups from recruiting anyone under 18, and enlisting children under 15 is a war crime.

“The YPG, despite pledges to stop using child soldiers, is still recruiting children for military training in territory it controls,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, acting emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s especially horrendous that the group is recruiting children from the vulnerable families in displacement camps without their parents’ knowledge or even telling them where their children are.” The United States government, which supports the Syrian Democratic Forces, should urge the group to end its use of child soldiers, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch interviewed eight families at three displacement camps in northeast Syria who said that either other recruits from the YPG or Asayish (internal security) officers in the camps had encouraged their children to enlist. These families reported that six girls and two boys between 13 and 17 had enlisted. Most families had no contact with their children since they were recruited and only knew from authorities that the children were in training. But one mother said that her son, 16 when he enlisted, had a combat role and died as the group fought to retake the city of Raqqa. One former recruit said she saw girls between 15 and 17 in training.

The annual UN report on children in armed conflict found 224 cases of child recruitment by the YPG and its women’s unit in 2017, an almost fivefold increase from the previous year. Seventy-two of the children, nearly one-third, were girls. In at least three cases, the group abducted children to enlist them.

The families Human Rights Watch interviewed all said their children enlisted voluntarily. In some cases, children discussed the possibility with their parents, who had refused permission, but joined anyway. Siblings or other children in the camp saw the children driving off with Asayish officers, and either camp administrators or Asayish officers confirmed that their children were taken for military training, the parents said.

“We are poor, so they told my daughter they would give her money and clothes,” the mother of a 13-year-old girl said. Though she told her daughter not to enlist, she did and has been missing for a month, the mother said.

The families said that authorities refused to disclose their children’s whereabouts or permit communication with them. The families had not spoken with their children for as long as six months. The mother of a 16-year-girl said she received US$300 a month based on her daughter’s enlistment, but had not been able to communicate with her for six months. She said: “I went to the main gate [of the camp] and asked the administration about her. They said she is fine, but I told them I want a photo or voice message. But we know nothing about her, only her salary.”

The mother of a 17-year-old girl, said: “I haven’t had any call, any way to talk with [my daughter]. We just want to know if she’s alive or dead. I want to leave camp, I have a house in Damascus. I want to go there. But I want to know about my daughter.” Other parents also said they wanted to leave displacement camps but were afraid to because their children would not know how to reach them.

The mother of the 16-year-old boy killed during the battle for Raqqa showed Human Rights Watch photos of the boy in military clothing, carrying a weapon, and official records that confirmed his age. “He said, ‘I want to protect my house so my family can go back,’” his mother said. “They just put him in a car…heading to the front lines for the battle of Raqqa.” Military officials visited her in camp and told her how her son had died, she said.

Human Rights Watch sent a letter on June 29, 2018, to the group and to the executive committee of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party-led Autonomous Administration describing the pattern of child recruitment, requesting information on measures they were taking to prevent recruitment and use of children in hostilities, and asking whether the armed group obtains parental consent and allows family communication for recruits under 18.

The administration replied on July 16 stating that families are informed when a child enlists but that children may join without parental consent. The letter acknowledged that children ages 16 and 17 can enlist, but said they are not placed in combat roles. Instead, the letter states, “they are placed in special centers where they receive intellectual and occupational training.” It said that girls from displacement camps have sought protection from the forces to escape early marriage, harassment, and rape, and that the women’s unit has provided them with shelter and protection.

In three of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, parents or community members said that domestic abuse or unspecified problems at home led girls to enlist. Human Rights Watch also interviewed a member of the women’s unit who was over 18 who said she enlisted due to problems at home. If children are joining armed forces to flee early marriage or domestic abuse, or to provide for their families, the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Autonomous Administration should not be enlisting them into the military and instead seek to protect them from such abuse with civilian measures, Human Rights Watch said.

For instance, they should provide protection for vulnerable women and children in civilian shelters, and opportunities for residents to leave the camp including civilian education or work instead of recruiting them for the armed groups. As a key ally of these forces, the US should encourage the YPG to end all recruitment and use of child soldiers and provide support for tthese alternatives. The US has supported the Syrian Democratic Forces, of which the YPG is currently the largest member, with training and arms. US law, the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, prohibits the US from providing military assistance to governments recruiting and using child soldiers. The US should apply the same principles to non-state armed groups it supports, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch remains concerned about the armed group’s “non-combatant category” for children ages 16 and 17. In 2014, the group signed Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment, through which non-state armed groups pledge to uphold international humanitarian law standards including not to recruit or use child soldiers, but entered a reservation stating that the group would continue to accept 16 and 17-year-olds but not have them perform military functions. In June, Geneva Call announced that the group would amend its internal code of conduct so that only those 17 and above could enlist.

The group should remove its reservation entirely, and stop recruiting anyone under 18, Human Rights Watch said. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict prohibits non-state armed groups from recruiting children under 18 for any purpose, including for military training. Under customary international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, it is a war crime for members of armed forces or non-state armed groups to conscript or enlist children under 15, or to use them in hostilities.

“Even if children are fleeing domestic violence or poverty, the YPG is not protecting them by recruiting them into their forces,” Motaparthy said. “If they are serious about helping these children, they should live up to their pledge and provide alternatives to ensure that the children don’t lose their future or their lives.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am